Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Michael Sam is not Tim Tebow, and celebratory kisses are not showy envangelizing

As much as I hate to post on a topic that's been talked to death...there's one aspect that I have not seen addressed as I feel it needs to be.

As you almost certainly know, openly gay football player Michael Sam was recently drafted into the NFL. On hearing the good news, he engaged in one of the most non-controversial things a man can do: he shared a celebratory kiss with his significant other. Except, of course, Michael Sam is gay, so, you know, controversy. The predictable hate ensued. Satire site freewoodpost picked up on the hypocrisy: it's only "flaunting" your sexuality when you're gay. It's only forcing people to consider your bedroom life when you're gay. It's only injecting sexuality into the discussion when you're gay. Which is to say, it isn't at all, and it's only seen that way through the prism of extreme homophobia: what I do is "normal", but when you do it I'm uncomfortable. So, for the love of humanity, stop it you pervert!

As I say, though, this point has been addressed rather well by many before me. It's the Sam/Tebow comparison that I feel shouldn't pass by without a response.

A few examples (gleaned from supportive conservative media, no less):

So let's start with the obvious. Sam isn't being "praised" for being gay. Sam is being praised for having the courage to be openly gay in a field that is historically, shall we say, not welcoming to gay players. Of the three tweets above, only one person comes near the truth: it's not that people are celebrating that he is gay, but that he is brave enough not to hide that -- and that he is not excluded from participation because of his sexual orientation. Because of the historically homophobic locker room environment, this is big news; it's a sign of significant progress, evidence that barriers -- the like of which Tebow never had to face -- might have come down, a little at least. Not because Michael Sam loves another man.

And, just as -- perhaps more -- importantly, Tim Tebow wasn't mocked for being a Christian. Tebow was hardly the only Christian in the NFL, and -- unlike its cultural attitudes toward gay players -- there is no particular hostility toward religious players. It wasn't that Tebow was religious that bothered people. It was Tebow's particular brand of religiosity: the showy evangelizing, the constant effort to prove that he was the Christianiest of the Christians. Tebow made a show of his Christianity, from the pious on-field prayers to the painted-on-his-face verses; and it was a show people didn't find compelling. No one begrudged him his faith; but the showiness of his evangelizing is the sort of thing that does rub some people the wrong way. In fact, I seem to remember someone rather famous complaining about that exact type of religiosity. Now who was that...?

Matthew 6.1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners [d]so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Oh yes, I believe that was Jesus. Turns out the "Christ" in "Christ"ianity wasn't a big fan of Tebow's brand of religious promotion either. And Jesus, as god characters go, was a pretty cool dude. So maybe "#society" isn't doing so bad after all, if it views those who "love to stand and pray" "before men to be noticed by them" with disdain. Or maybe Jesus didn't know jack, and we're all doomed because, you know, people rolled their eyes at Tebowing.

At any rate, what it gets down to is this: there is a distinct difference between sharing a celebratory kiss during a special moment with a significant other, and Tebowing. Now, if Michael Sam somehow manages to turn every appearance on the field into a demonstration or endorsement of his sexuality, yeah, they'll be similar. But nothing of the sort has happened (or is even likely possible).

Where conservatives seem to be missing the point is that they are confusing their discomfort with a celebratory kiss between men with constant promotion of a thing. Yes, you might love Christianity; and yes, you might hate The Gayz. But Michael Sam being gay (including having a boyfriend) is just him being gay; Tebow being Christian (including praying, attending church, etc.), is just him being Christian (like all the other Christian players who are not "persecuted" for their beliefs). Tebow made a (decidedly non-Biblical) choice to, shall we say, celebrate his belief in a fashion that came off as smug and holier-than-thou to many people -- not because he acknowledged that he was a Christian or lived as a Christian, but because he turned the sport into a venue for promotion of that belief, for evangelizing. Sam has done no such thing. He simply exists as a gay man.

Existing as a gay man, including having a family, is not "evangelizing" for homosexuality. It's just existing. And being uncomfortable at the sight of gay men existing is not evidence that homosexuality is being "forced" on you. It's evidence that you have issues you need to work through.

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